11/28/2011 02:21 EST | Updated 01/28/2012 05:12 EST

Habitat 67 In Lego: Montreal Landmark Beating Out Other Famous Sites In Contest

MONTREAL - A quirky Montreal architectural landmark could be upstaging some of the world's most famous buildings in the race to be immortalized as a popular children's toy.

Habitat 67, a unique housing complex built for the city's Expo in the 1960s, found itself in top spot Monday in a competition to determine the next Lego architecture set.

With more than 89,000 votes, Habitat found itself ahead of such landmarks as Paris' Eiffel Tower, Rome's Coliseum and the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

Voters are invited to cast their votes on Lego's website. Winning the contest doesn't guarantee that a Habitat toy will be built, but the company says it'll consider public opinion.

The Habitat 67 complex is an integrated series of blocks of housing units near downtown Montreal's waterfront, designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie.

A local heritage activist says that while Habitat is considered among the most influential Canadian buildings in the world, its standing in the contest is surprising.

"Usually for these kinds of competitions you think of iconic buildings which are usually office towers, public buildings or theatres," said Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montreal.

"But here we're essentially talking about a block of flats — it's a residential structure and it shows you can do iconic landmarks with very simple programs."

The structure was built as a pavilion for Expo 67, the world's fair held 44 years ago. It was declared a historic site by Quebec in 2009.

The Habitat building is made up of 354 identical, prefabricated concrete forms. They are arranged and stacked in various combinations, up to 12 stories high.

An extension of Safdie's thesis project, the idea was to integrate the advantages of suburban life — for instance, gardens, privacy, and multi-floor units — into an urban apartment setting.

From afar, the structure in fact looks quite Lego-like. It was the first building the now-famous architect ever built.

About 400 people live in 147 units, according to Habitat officials. Max Lortie, general partner, said officials only became aware of the online contest in recent days.

"It's good for us, it's good publicity for our building that's well known all over the world," Lortie said.

Lego, which makes the popular plastic construction block toy, has released a number of sets under its "architecture" series since 2008. Past examples include the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre and the White House.

Whether it will actually build a model of Habitat 67, should that win the contest, remains up in the air, according to the company website.

The manufacturer said it considers certain criteria for selecting potential buildings — including whether they can actually be built using Lego. Other considerations include whether they will be enjoyable to build, and whether the company can negotiate "contractual issues" with the building owners.

"So while we can't guarantee that the most popular building will always become a Lego Architecture product, we promise that we’ll look seriously at the votes we receive," the company says.

Bumbaru said gaining a historic monument designation in 2009 was important because it will ensure that Habitat gets the kind of work that it needs done regularly.

"This is the kind of building you want to see in 50 years with the same kind of iconic value as we have today," Bumbaru said.

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